Maya Angelo famously stated, “People will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.” While relevant in all areas of our connections with others, I believe this is most true with client-advisor relationships. And I believe that one of the most impactful ways we can achieve a genuine connection with our clients is by having a strong unwavering conviction in the research, solutions and implementation of our wealth strategies. To serve clients in an impactful manner, we can’t just think we are doing the right thing for them, we have to know it in our core.
I have seen the power of conviction transform lives; it’s a true game changer.
In 2002, I was a 22-year-old kid getting my feet wet in the investment business. As an avid outdoorsman, I was thrilled when I was invited on a high-altitude mountain climbing expedition. This incredible trip quickly turned into a life changing nightmare. I tumbled over 4,000 feet down the face of a glacier. My beaten, limp body came to rest just shy of the cliffs hovering almost three miles off the ground. Since the altitude was too high for a standard rescue, I was forced to stay the night until a military helicopter could come to my aid. Suffering from a pulmonaria edema and serious head injuries, in a state of disarray I unknowingly removed my gloves throughout the cold darkness. Though I miraculously survived the night, the cost was significant. I lost the majority of my fingers and toes to frostbite. Amazingly, this tragedy was the beginning of my “why” to begin doing what I do.
When I agreed to go on the trip, not only was I looking for adventure, I was searching for answers to my already questioning career. The wealth management firm that I joined right out of college was using predominantly actively managed mutual funds within their clients’ portfolios. We’d buy the funds with the best ten-year numbers … and then watch them underperform for the next decade. I had no conviction in this firm’s methodology and beliefs, it was tough for me to talk to my clients with a clear conscious about our portfolio offerings. But all of that was about to change.
After I was rescued, my journey was a difficult road of recovery plagued with surgeries, amputations and infections. While my wounds healed, I began to read the white papers and research around passive investing. I was enamored with the facts and data. It made sense and I was fascinated with the purpose behind it.
Once I was back on my feet and in the office, I was invited to a Dimensional Fund Advisors (DFA) intro conference in Santa Monica. Those two days would change my life … almost as much as that cold painful night on the mountain.
Over those 48 hours, I was bombarded with regression analysis, betas, coefficients and slopes. While I didn’t fully understand what the heck these DFA guys were talking about, I knew the presenters believed in what they were saying! More than the message they were giving, I loved how they made me feel. Like them, I wanted to live a life of passion fueled by deep conviction.
Following the conference, I introduced myself to Dan Wheeler, the head of Financial Advisor Services at DFA. I told him that I couldn’t go home to the investment world of Wall Street, promised Alpha and big expense ratios that I didn’t believe in. I had three options: work for DFA, find a different advisory firm who implemented with DFA or leave the industry.
Fortunately, Dan and DFA took a chance and offered me a position. Fast forward four months later – I was a terrified, fingerless 25-year-old living in Santa Monica with my dream job. Fueled by my quest for knowledge, I quickly realized that to be able to explain complex investment strategies to my clients, I had to fully understand the “why” behind the “how”. I became dedicated in this lifelong quest.
On an equally important note, before my fateful climb I had the honor of befriending DFA’s Regional Director, Bo Cornell. He saw that I was looking for investment answers, devouring data, searching for truth and questioning the active management concept. The bed of research he shared with me blew me away. The DFA representatives I was introduced to were sensible, smart and most of all passionate. They had a contagious excitement about the research and implementation of their wealth strategies within their portfolios.
As a young man looking for purpose in my career, their conviction was palpable.
Besides being my mentor, Bo was someone whom many of the early Buckingham Founders call a close personal friend, as he initially approved the then start up firm known as BAM. I knew Bo truly cared for me, believed in me and had deep convictions behind the things he was telling me. He wanted the light bulb to go off for me … and boy did it ever. Not only did it cause a shift in the way I looked at the markets, it shifted the way I looked at life.
Thanks to these combined experiences, encounters and fate, my conviction was birthed. I would go on to have a successful career at DFA, eventually becoming a vice president while also managing our internal Client Service team. A key part of this management role was educating new members of our DFA Regional Director team. I was excited to show others the power of truly believing in the firm’s methodology.
As a new member of the Buckingham Strategic Partners team, my conviction is stronger than ever. The evidence-drive philosophy, wealth of resources and deep passion for always doing the right thing runs deep within me and I am thrilled to be home.
I encourage you to find your conviction both personally and professionally. Go beyond being just competent, attack new learning opportunities with deep passion and constantly evaluate your beliefs and processes. It will improve your life in ways you cannot even imagine. Lastly, trust is currency in our business. Clients want to know they are in good hands and that someone truly cares about them through thick and thin.
All of us have a story, reason and a why behind what we do each day. While my story may be a little more unique than yours, its power is no different. I hope that by hearing my conviction journey, it helps you think through yours.
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